Transition Game: Larry Bird

Updated: February 18, 2004, 5:48 PM ET
By Dr. Jack Ramsay | Special to ESPN.com

Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from Dr. Jack Ramsay's new book "Dr. Jack's Leadership Lessons Learned from a Lifetime in Basketball." Ramsay interviewed many former NBA superstars who have used their athletic leadership capabilities to achieve success in the business world.

The Legend Continues: Larry Bird

Larry Bird joined his team's front office when his playing days were over. He became a "special assistant" with the Celtics franchise, a role that charged him with evaluating talent for the annual NBA Draft. But after five years of that involvement, and playing golf and fishing in Florida, Bird had the desire to get actively involved in the game again.

Larry Bird
Larry Bird made an easy transition to the front office.
So Bird transitioned his leadership skills into coaching in 1997, when he became head coach of the Indiana Pacers. As related in Chapter 2, he quickly made a success of it (during his three-year tenure with the Pacers, the team won 147 and lost 67 [.687], won two Central Division titles, and reached the NBA Finals in 2000. He was voted Coach of the Year in 1998).

But Bird never looked on coaching as a career. In his second year as coach, I asked him if he would consider staying on longer than his contract. He replied, "Jack, you know I'm no real coach. I've really learned a lot and it's been a lot of fun, but I'm done after next year."

How to find Dr. Jack's book
You can get a copy of Dr. Jack Ramsay's book: "Dr. Jack's Leadership Lessons Learned from a Lifetime in Basketball" at your neighborhood bookstore or online @ Amazon.com.
More recently, when I reminded him of those statements, Larry explained, "I meant that I wasn't going to dedicate my life to coaching basketball. It was really selfish of me to take the Pacers job. I had loved being a player and wanted to find out what it was like to coach - and I enjoyed that too, but I never intended to make a career of it."

In fact, Bird has bigger business ambitions. He wants to own an NBA team. He said, "That's what I'd like to do next. I'd like to run the basketball end of a franchise - get a team and work with it from the ground up." Bird is part of a financially sound group, headed by Steve Belkin, that bid for the Charlotte expansion franchise and was bitterly disappointed when the league awarded the franchise to Bob Johnson in 2002.

Now they assess teams looking for a change in ownership. "There are teams available now, but they're mostly strapped by the salary cap and luxury tax and wouldn't be good investments." He added, "Charlotte would have been perfect." He's hoping it will happen for him yet. "If I can do that, then I'll have done it all in basketball: played, coached, and owned a team - all in the NBA."

In the meantime, Bird keeps busy as owner and operator of a highly successful golf course in Naples, Florida, named The Hide Out Golf Club. He and two of his buddies, Larry and Maurice Kent ("they're from Philadelphia - can you believe that?"), built the course because they got tired of five-hour rounds of golf. Bird also does radio and television commercials and makes appearances for major corporations.

He is also focused on family and, to that end, is trying to reduce his travel time so that he can be at home more with his family. Bird lives with his wife, Dinah, and their two children, Conner and Mariah, in a beautifully situated home on the bay in Naples. His back condition, improved by surgically fusing the fourth and fifth vertebrae, allows him to jog a couple of miles with his dog in the morning, ride his bicycle, and play golf pretty much pain-free.

He and Dinah spend a lot of time with their kids, and Larry thinks Conner (age 11) might become a player. "He's really quick and can shoot it. He doesn't handle well right now, but he's young - and you never know."

In the summer, the family goes back to its spread in French Lick, Indiana, where they have, essentially, a three-month reunion with family and friends. "We have a big place there, with a swimming pool and all kinds of playground stuff. It's a blast," says Bird.

A greater "blast" will be to see Bird run a basketball operation in the NBA - to put his stamp on a team, pick the right players and coaches, and instill in them the same level of competitiveness, confidence, and sense of teamwork that made him one of the all-time great players.

Bird gets his chance to do all that with the Pacers, who hired him in the summer of 2003 as their president of basketball operations. In that capacity, Bird will have control of everything connected with the operation except contract negotiations, which former president, Donnie Walsh - now franchise CEO - will continue to handle. Bird didn't waste any time establishing his authority. Seven weeks after taking over, he fired Coach Isiah Thomas and replaced him with Rick Carlisle.

Dr. Jack Ramsay coached the Trail Blazers to the 1977 NBA championship. A member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, he is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. Click here to send a question for Dr. Jack for possible use on ESPNEWS.

Legendary coach and Basketball Hall of Famer Dr. Jack Ramsay served as lead game analyst for The NBA on ESPN Radio. He also contributed to ESPN.com and ESPN The Mag.

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